It helps that National Education Day (birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad) and Children’s Day (birth anniversary of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru) fall within three days of each other. The Andhra Pradesh government has spent this time in particular, focusing on school education.
One of the big decisions taken by Jaganmohan Reddy has been to upgrade 15700 schools of the total 45000 in the state by infusing funds worth Rs 3500 crore. The intention is to ensure government schools are not for the have-nots and are not also-rans in the sphere of education. The second big move has been to convert classes 1 to 6 to English medium. Over the next four years, this will be extended from classes 7 to 10 as well.
This, to my mind, is a big decision, a much-needed reform in the education sector. But there has been high-decibel criticism. Pawan Kalyan says Telugu should be the medium of instruction from KG to PG. Naidu says while we must learn English for the sake of our career, if we do not protect our language, the Telugu community will lose its presence and identity. Pawan Kalyan and Chandrababu Naidu are indulging in criticism for the sake of criticism and their opposition to this decision is hollow and reeks of hypocrisy.
Which is why when Jagan asks if Naidu will send his grandson to a government Telugu medium school or a private English medium school, he settles the debate. For too long, it has been about “our children” and “other children”.
I will tell you why.
Every year in June, when the academic year is about to begin, teachers from govt schools and sarpanches have the task to undertake an enrolment drive. They have to convince parents whose children are not going to school to send their children to govt schools and in some cases, even nudge parents to shift their parents from expensive private schools to government schools where there is no fee charged. But every year it is the same story.
Villagers turn around and ask the teachers : “Where do you send your children to study?”
And they have good reason to ask because educators says of the 98000 govt school teachers in 45000 schools in Andhra Pradesh, more than 95 per cent of these teachers send their school-going children to private English medium schools.
Now let us look at the situation on the ground. The challenge is to prepare the 98000 teachers to shift seamlessly, train them, monitor their progress, have quality control mechanism in place. Of the 70 lakh students in classes 1 to 10, 46 lakh already are enrolled in English medium schools – all private and a few government schools. It is the remaining 24 lakh who have to undertake the journey from Telugu medium to English.
There is another aspect as well to be considered by those who are batting for Telugu medium.
“In tribal areas of the state, there are spoken close to 20 tribal languages. For them Telugu is as alien as English and therefore they prefer to enrol their children in English medium schools,” says Venkat Reddy of the MV Foundation.
And it is not as if Telugu is being dumped. It will remain a compulsory language from classes 1 to 10 and Urdu for those whose mother tongue is Urdu.
It is not as if only government schools have to be focused on. Even in private English medium schools, the quality of teaching is not up to the mark.
But what is commendable is that education is part of the agenda for the YSRCP government. The need now is to map out the capable teaching faculty, scout for resource persons, identify talent. Let this be in mission mode.